Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Post Date:  07/16/2010
Date Climbed:   07/06/2010
Posted By:  globreal

 Chicago Basin Approach   

Chicago Basin Approach to:
Mt. Eolus: 14,083 Route: Chicago Basin (Standard)
North Eolus: 14, 039 Route: Chicago Basin (Standard)
Windom Peak: 14, 082 Route: Chicago Basin (Standard)
Sunlight Peak: 14, 059 Route: Chicago Basin (Standard)

Crew: The Michigan Flatlanders: Len, John, Brad, Mark, Mark Sr. Steve,
and Robert from St. Louis…and me, Britt (globreal)
Approach date: Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Start Time: 9:00am (train) Arrive at Needleton at 11:30am
12:08pm start hiking time from Needleton
End Time: 5:00pm (group 1) 6:15pm (group 2)
Total Time: 5 hours (first group) & 6 1/4 hours (total hiking/time)
Trip Length: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet

There is more planning necessary when going for these 4-14ers in the Weminuche Wilderness. They are remote, far from the front range, and take extra time, planning, and work to get to them.

From Wikepedia:
The Weminuche Wilderness is a wilderness area in southwest Colorado managed by the San Juan National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide and the Rio Grande National Forest on the east side of the divide. It is about 5 miles (8 km) south east of the town of Silverton and about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of Durango. At 488,210 acres (1975 km˛), it is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. Within the wilderness can be found three fourteeners of the San Juan Mountains; Mount Eolus, Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak, in addition to numerous thirteeners and other peaks of note.

And depending on your preferences, there are several ways to get in to the Chicago Basin area. Here are a can hike in from Hwy 550 at the Purgatory Ski Area (now called the Durango Mountain Resort) or you can take the Durango/Silverton train, and start hiking from what is called Needleton. If you go the train route, like we did, it will cost you $94 (with a pack) but, you avoid 10 miles (20 miles round trip) of hiking with a heavy overnight pack. We choose to pay more and hike less. ☺

Even though I've done this train trip 2-3 times before, I still enjoyed it again. The train ride actually is quite nice and passes by some beautiful scenery.
photo by Brad

I couldn't help but think about what this must have been like back in the 1880's when people were riding this rail line up to Silverton and seeing the full ore cars coming down to Durango. I mean think about it….they didn't have cars and Hwy 550 back then! And did you know that this line, using a steam engine, has run continuosly since 1881?

My friends from Michigan seem to be enjoying themselves.

…that is, until we got 400 feet of exposure!

But that soon passed as we crossed over the Animas River at 7,200 feet elevation. Another 1,000 feet elevation to climb before our drop of point.

Then at about 8,000 feet we come around a bend and get a view of Pigeon and Turret Peaks. A couple of 13ers just to the west of our final hiking destination.

The train stops at the Needleton flag stop to drop off those of us who are backpackers. It looked to be about 20-30 of us per day getting on or off the train. Here is our crew of 8.

Here we are crossing the newly constructed bridge over the Animas. This is right at the spot where the train drops us all off.

And away we go….hiking with our heavy packs for almost 7 miles…

… and 2,900 feet of elevation gain. Of course this took it's toll for those coming from darn near sea level. So, plenty of rest stops were in order along the way.

And this time of year the state flower, the Columbine, is showing herself off for us.

John and Robert seem to be enjoying the scenery….
…and why wouldn't they. Here in the Chicago Basin, it's some of the best in the state!
photo by Brad

Even though we've come out of the forest and into the open expanse of the Chicago Basin, we still had a ways to go before finding a camping spot. The places that looked good along Needle Creek had signs saying: NO CAMPING WITH 100 FEET OF THE CREEK. Argh!

So, we had to keep hiking!

My GPS showed that we had hiked up to 11,100 in elevation and a full 7 miles from the train drop-off. But, in the end, it was well worth it to get a view like this off of the back deck!

This was really nice homestead for the next 3 nights….well um, except for the persistent local residents!!

If you would like to see the TR on our climb of Eolus and N. Eolus the next day, go here:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

The approach to Chicago Basin...     07/16/2010 12:55
...definitely deserves its own TR. Thanks for putting this up, Britt.


Great photos!     07/16/2010 16:03
I‘ve been looking forward to this upon your return. Off to the next section ... thanks for posting. Happy trails!


The Windy City!     07/17/2010 04:30
Beautiful experience Britt - fantastic photography that while doesn‘t replace being there, does allow me to experience it vicariously...sort of!

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